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tv   Nightline  ABC  July 29, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am EDT

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reversal of fortune. a startling new development in the case of amanda knox,, the american student convicted of murder in italy. on the eve of a critical hearing, there's explosive revelations that could set her free. is this the breakthrough her family has been praying for? role of a lifetime, from white castle, to the white house. for the first time, actor kal penn opens up about his unlikely career in politics and his return to hollywood. debt for dummies, we have the latest on the nation's maxed out credit line. how did we get here and can these guys make it any worse? we have the crisis by the
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numbers. good evening. i'm bill weir. there is news tonight from washington, but none of it good. republicans jammed a revised debt limit plan through the useonight but it was swiftly killed by the democrats in the senate with little sign of the parties coming together, a stalemate continues as does the relentless countdown towards tuesday's default deadline. we'll have more on the crisis later in the show. a stunning new revelation that could spell freedom for imprisoned american college student amanda knox. elizabeth vargas brings us the latest from perugia, crime punishment. >> reporter: it is a journey amanda knox's mother, edda
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mellas, knows too well. shuttling back and forth, 6,000 miles between seattle and italy, to visit her daughter in the prison she has called home for three and a half years. this week's visit was different, for the first time, knox was brimming with hope after a drastic turn of events. >> she talked about how good a day it was. she did talk about things she wants to do when she gets out. >> reporter: in 2007, knox was transformed overnight from a student into an international murder suspect after her arrest in the grew some stabbing of her roommate, meredith kercher. the tabloids labeled her foxy knoxy. they had no eyewitnesss and no clear motive. [speaking foreign language] >> reporter: the case rested entirely on two pieces of evidence. first, a knife found at the
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apartment of raffaele sollecito, knox's boyfriend. the prosecutors claimed it was the murder weapon claiming it had knox's dna on the handle. second, kercher's bra clasp had sollecito's dna on it, according to prosecutors, it was enough to convict them. knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison and sollecito to 25. after the verdict, knox's family, stunned and angry fought theieiway through a mob of press and local perugians. >> how has this changed your daughter? >> she was 20, naive, happy, lovely. she's way more cautious. she had to grow up really fast. >> learn life lessons. >> huge lessons. >> reporter: knox was back in court for her appeal, looking
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fragile and pale. prison life has clearly taken its toll. an astonishing revelation, two italian independent experts assigned by the court to review that dna evidence blasted the findings of the prosecution's star forensic expert. these independent experts came forward saying there is no evidence on the knife, and this little bra clasp also had no dna of the young man. >> it's a great moment when what you've said through careful, long analysis is repeated by independent people that the judge appointed in this case. >> reporter: it didn't end there. next came a blistering critique of how the evidence was collected. the independent experts explplned the proper procedures required by international standards, evidence must be placed into paper, not plastic bags to avoid moisture. >> you're supposed to photograph it, get a pair of tweezers never been used fresh from the box.
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pick up the piece with gloved hands and put it in a paper bag. >> reporter: three things can destroy dna's value, moisture, heat and law enforcement. take a look at this. the forensic police's own crime scene video. it shows evidence notably that all important bra clasp being picked up on the floor, passed around and placed back on the floor. >> in this remarkable moment, this evidence is going to be key in this case. they take that bra clasp and lay it on the floor. >> reporter: those gloves, so important for preventing contamination, the court saw a close-up photo of what investigator's hand. check out the dirt. the expert said the bra clasp should never have been admitted as evidence at all. the display of sloppiness prompted the okay servers to laugh and shake their heads at amazement. humiliation for prosecutors and home run for the knox lead
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italian lawyer. >> you must be optimistic? >> we always optimistic because we knoww amanda has always told us the truth. >> reporter: tensions ran high. the judge even shouting to silence the lead prosecutor. [speaking foreign language] >> reporter: pounding on the desk. >> be quiet. >> reporter: the hearing resumes tomorrow, but the startling discoveries have fueled speculation that this case has been a huge miscarriage of justice. >> taking away the material evidence, destroys the case. i don't think that they can go very much farther with it. >> reporter: do you think this is the beginning of the end? >> i'm still not going there. i don't make those predictions. can't do it. >> i think we're moving definitely in the right direction. >> reporter: you were in tears when court ended today. why was that such an emotional moment? >> seeing amanda, seeing all of us get emotional and to be able to hug her and tell her, do you
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see the light now? can you see it now? >> reporter: happy crying for the first time. >> happy crying, yeah. >> reporter: i'm elizabeth vargas for "nightline" in new york. >> glimmererof hope for a family. up next, from bong hits on screen to policy meetings in the white house. the star of harold and kumar has never given an interview until tonight. 66% of new products have some kind of intelligence built in... refrigerators order groceries from the store. washing machines run when energy prices are lowest... and dryers call for service before they break down. air conditioners respond to local weather reports. software gives businesses new ways to connect to customers. by making things smarter, life gets better. that's what i'm working on. i'm an ibmer. i'm an ibmer. i'm an ibmer. let's build a smarter planet.
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some actors adopt foreign babies, some launch perfume or salad dressing lines, but kal penn, one-half of the duo
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"harold and kumar" two years ago, he walked off the fox hit "house." and into an office at the white house and tonight he's walking out. here is abc's jake tapper. >> i'm k kpen modi. >> today was the last day of work for kalpen modi at the white house. you probably know him better as kal penn, his stage name or even more -- >> no eating until we get to white castle. >> reporter: as kumar, from the "harold and kumar" franchise. >> not joining the mile high club. >> or as dr. kutner from "house." >> or a terrorist from "24." penn may be the only one in recent memory that goes on hiatus from acting to work for a politician. >> you know i've been trying to interview you for like two and a
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half years. >> i understand. i appreciate that. >> reporter: you haven't let me do it until your departure. >> correct. our jobs are kind of keep your head down, do good work. it wasn't the old life. >> reporter: since 2009, penn has worked under obama senior adviser valerie jarrett as associate director of public engagement focusing on young americans. slsling away in this small office with five co-workers. working with president obama, talking to students here and across the country. >> our office doesn't handle policy but we bridge gaps between policy. >> you explain what's going on policy to the public. >> absolutely. if there's a group of kids that are concerned about an issue and they want to bring in ten or 12 folks, we'll link up that way. >> reporter: one of his jobs, engaging those elusive voters who turned out in droves for
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obama in 2008. he says the young throngs have changed in attitude, but they're not less inspired. what i've seen is that there is a realization that changes, not a light switch. if it was easy to flip on light switch and change everything, somebody would have done it before. it's a very laborious process. it's very slow. i would say it's not disillusionment, it's understanding the process. >> reporter: a lot of hollywood actors, i don't mean that in a derogatory way, a lot of hollywood actor appear at rallies. you're the only one i ever heard of who has then taken a job, and a behind the scenes job really with the administration. what could possibly motivate you to do that? >> i have friends and folks who i knew over in iraq and afghanistan. i had buddies who had huge student debt, people got kicked off their health insurance plans for one reason or another. that was my decision to get involved on a personal level.
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>> reporter: i know this is your whole thing that you're not any different than anybody else who works here. >> it's true. i don't mean to sound boring. it's the reality of our day to day. >> reporter: it is different. you put your career in hollywood very high profile one, you know, you work in some movies that have made a lot of money. >> if you talk to the numbers of staffers here that have families and multiple kids at home and you talk about folks who have been working jobs that they worked their lives for and took a break for two years and are not making as much money as they had before and putting their family life on hold, those are the real stories. >> reporter: i guess we should cancnc the segment right now. >> i would say do the segment on everybody else. i really do think that. i think that that's what kind of keeps me going. that's what i see on a daily basis. it's sort of like the awe >> reporter: one of penn's ce.
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fondest moments was a late night in january when he accepted a painting to be given to chinese president hu jintao. >> you're receiving a painting. it's freezing outside on behalf of the president that he's going to give to another world leader. you take a moment and kind of realize where you are. it's prettyy humbling. >> reporter: he clearly loved every minute here. this is where all the magic happened. >> correct. >> you're in this office with five other people. >> correct. >> it's kind of hot in here. >> it isis. there's a littltl temperature control over there, but, you know -- >> it's not glamorous. >> no. >> worker bees. >> yes. it's a great team of people here. i think they're putting in hours doing some good work. >> reporter: penn says the plan was to work for two years and go back to hollywood. a guest role on "highway i met
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your mother." "harold and kumar 3." and offers far more lucrative than the $41,000 job he left today though you get the impression he'll miss it quite a bit. this is jake tapper for "nightline" at the white house. bring it. getting it clean again is easy with bounty. in this lab demo, one sheet of bounty leaves this surface as clean as 2 sheets of the bargain brand. ♪ why use more when you can use less? ♪ super durable. super absorbent. super clean. bounty. the one-sheet clean picker-upper. [ man ] i love you guys. [ laughs ] i mean, just, you know, the whole heist thng/ just putting jewels in teddy bears. this guy's wearing a wire the whole time. right? look at that! he's wearing a wire!/ [ laughs ] all right, let's do this. all right? before my wife changes her mind. go.
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well, as we told you at the top of the show, despite all the sound and fury on capitol hill this week, it appears we are no closer to avoiding a predicted economic disaster over the debt limit. let's bring in senior political correspondent, jon karl, please tell us there is some whiff of bipartisan compromise in the air. >> i would love to tell you that. there is no whiff quite yet. i can tell you in fact they are
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moving in the exact opposite direction. the house of course passed the republican version of the debt ceiling bill, john boehner's bill. the senate acted immediately to reject it. now i'm told the house is going to move forward tomorrow at 1:00 with a vote on the democratic version that harry reid has put forward. they're going to reject that. we will have republicans rejecting the democratic deal. democrats rejecting the republican deal. house-senate, no action. clearly there are negotiations going on behind the scenes. >> let's talk about worst case scenario. if the markets open on monday and tank, is there some trigger mechanism to avoid a cataclysmic event? >> there are emergency powers the president can exercise. before we get there, bill, what i expect to see happen is that the two sides will negotiate late into the night tomorrow. if they can get a deal tomorrow, by saturday night by about midnight, they can still pass something in time in both the house and senate. >> jon and his team will be
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feeding with the latest all weekend. with so much rhetoric flying these days, we thought it might be helpful to end a week with a little perspective. the debt crisis by the numbers. >> $14.3 trillion. the size of our national debt or roughly $46,000 for every man, woman and innocent child. 2. trillion of that is the amount added to the debt under barack obama, 6.1 trillion, the amount added by george. bush. $74 billion the amount of cash the u.s. treasury has on hand. 76 billion the amount of cash apple computer has on hand. 78. the number of times the debt ceiling has been raised since 1960. 29 times under democratic presidents. 49 times under republicics. 330, the number of times a republican senator voted to
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raise the limit in the decade before barack obama was elected. 3, the number of times since. 3 is also the number of times then senator obama either voted against raising the debt limit or didn't vote at all. 18, holes of golf played by the president and speaker in an effort to reach a grand bargain. 9, number of urgent white house meetings in an effort to reach a grand bargain. 0, the number of grand bargains. 62, percentage of americans who told abc news we need to cut spending and raise taxes to fix our problem. 34, percentage of strong tea party members who agree with that kind of compromise. 1, number of times john mccain accused hard line tea party representatives of living in a lord of the rings fantasy world. >> democrats w wld have no choice but to pass a balanced budget amendment and reform entitlements and the tea party hob its can return to middle
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earth having defeated mordor of. >> reporter: 50, president obama's age on his birthday. 2, number of chicago fund raising parties he's planning to attend on wednesday under the assumption a deal gets done. >> we're confident this will get done. obviously, if it's not we'll address the schedule accordingly. >2.24 trillion the amount of dollars owned by china who wrote a scolding editorial about the ugly impasse when the donkey and elephants fight. 70 million, the approximate number of checks the government cuts each month to everyone from soldiers to retirees to astronauts and the number of checks that won't go out in august if the ceiling isn't raised, we'll have to put a big question mark there, because that has never happened. the national plot thickens. thank you for watching abc


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